Autumn faith journeys
Last fall’s two pilgrimages, to Mexico in September and Italy in October, took Legates on intimate faith-intensifying tours of Marian apparition sites, miraculous images, renowned cathedrals, saints’ hometowns and modern-day families, Vatican treasures, and a private audience with Pope Francis.
Legatus’ spiritual expeditions are an unparalleled immersion for enhancing appreciation for the greatest ambassadors for Christ, and the extraordinary “meetings” of heaven and earth throughout salvation history.
The September 22-25 Mexico pilgrimage featured visits to the world-famous Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe – the most visited shrine in Christendom – and the correlating site of the Virgin Mary’s 16th-century apparitions to St. Juan Diego in Guadalupe (whose tilma displaying her miraculous image is prominently displayed in the Shrine). Also included was a tour of Mexico City, and visit to the Sisters of Mary’s Girlstown for underprivileged girls.
Legatus executive director Stephen Henley was overcome by the experience.
“The pilgrimage to Mexico City is one like I have never had. At the beginning of the trip, we saw the tilma of Juan Diego, the world’s only apparition-result we can still see. We see the faith and love of the people of Mexico. Then we see the fruits of the apparition when we visit Girlstown (Chalco, MX) where we see the joy and love of the Virgin Mary exuded by 3,500 girls. It is breathtaking and such an emotionally uplifting experience.”
Sharon and Steve Booma of the Jacksonville Chapter were captivated and penned this note of thanks to Tom Sullivan, one of the pilgrimage’s group leaders.
“We’ve been thinking about our Mexico trip and thank you for encouraging us to go. The expression of faith that we felt at the cathedral, the basilica — everywhere — was at times overwhelming. The purity and innocence we saw on the girls’ faces at Mass in Girlstown was so sincere — it was obvious that they love God. What a gift to be there! Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother were/are indeed present.”
Monsignor Robert J. Panke, rector of St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. and among the pilgrimage’s accompanying priests, said, “It was such a wonderful and grace-filled experience to celebrate Mass at Girlstown and see the extraordinary work begun by Father Al [Girlstown founder, the late Venerable Fr. Aloysius Schwartz] and continued by the sisters. It had a profound effect on me and the others.”
A late-October, 10-day sacred-art-and sites pilgrimage to Italy, during the most enjoyable season to visit, was divided between the country’s spectacular northern areas beginning in Milan, and finalizing in Rome. Premier hotels – such as Milan’s Excelsior Hotel Gallia, and Rome’s Westin Excelsior – offered unparalleled respite and meals for Legates in each locale, as did renowned restaurants and exclusive al fresco dining. The group also enjoyed carefree, authentic shopping intervals.
Launching with a visit to Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper” painting at the Santa Maria della Grazie convent in Milan, the Legatus tour group also ventured to the nearby Basilica of St. Ambrose and Milan Cathedral (dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity). St. Ambrose’s relics were exposed for veneration and his basilica – one of Milan’s most ancient churches – was consecrated by Ambrose himself in the late 4th century. Noted art-historian Liz Lev primed the group beforehand with a presentation on the Last Supper as part of an overview of DaVinci’s art and its meaning. A trip to Magenta and Mesero, where St. Gianna Beretta Molla was born and raised, featured a personalized tour by her daughter, Gianna Emanuela (also a physician, like her mother). Included were churches and schools that St. Gianna attended regularly, as well as the house where she was born, and the one where she lived while married to her husband, Pietro.
A private cruise and wine-tasting lunch on Lake Como, nestled along the foothills of the Alps, featured a visit to the town of Bellagio with its formal lakeside villas and landscapes, narrow shop-lined cobblestone streets, Mass at St. James Church in Como, and a visit to the Cathedral of Como.
The group headed south for its final five days in Rome, which featured visits to St. Peter’s Basilica with guided tours by Liz Lev; private tours of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, and of ancient Christian Rome; the papal gardens; a special Italian cooking class; and a driving excursion to Castel Gondolfo at Lake Albano – the summer lakeside residence of the pope. The finale of the trip was a private meeting with Pope Francis.
And the Legate-pilgrims’ endorsements for the trip say even more.
Steve and Liz Crawford, San Antonio Chapter, said, “There were so many special moments, it is hard to name one. We saw fantastic behind the scenes things and had amazing guides give context to it …it made all the difference in the world. We highly recommend everyone do this at least once!”
“This was a first-class experience,” said Bill and Nancy Stemper of the Philadelphia Chapter. “We had outstanding care, and such a passionate and knowledgeable chaplain in Fr. Joe Fox to enrich our learning. Experiencing Catholic-Italian sites with a small group of like-minded Catholics … made this a pilgrimage, not a sightseeing tour. And we never could have imagined experiencing Pope Francis ‘up close and personal.’”
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s managing editor.